The Time for Automation in Modern Field Service Management is Now
It would be difficult to come up with a sector that would not benefit from embracing automation for field services. Telecommunications, banking and finance, facilities, utilities, oil and gas companies – they have all been forced to evolve to keep pace with technology and customer demands.
Field service automation challenges
With data now flooding into many companies via digital channels, how can we best utilize this influx of information? What hardware and automation processes can actually be deployed? What does automation mean for businesses in the field service sector? How will the human workforce be organized in coming years, and what will automation mean for engineers? Will we even still need boots on the ground if IT systems are handling more and increasingly complex processes
To take the last question first, it’s unlikely that we’re on the brink of a labor market meltdown. Yes, automation is making inroads into traditionally manual tasks; a report by McKinsey suggests that around one-third of tasks carried out by humans now could soon be taken over by machines in up to 60% of occupations. But McKinsey also predicts that current technology will only mark the end of 5% of jobs overall. The UK’s Office of National Statistics puts this a little higher (7.4%), but even so it has downgraded its estimates since 2011.
So yes, we’re still going to need the experts, especially as some tasks are better left to humans rather than machines. For example, when machines are solely responsible for generating trouble tickets we actually see many more reported problems in the system. There needs to be a human element to establish the priority level of a given trouble ticket and transfer this information to the system, if only to ensure that technicians, when required, are fully briefed and turn up at the customer’s premises with the right tools to do the job. There’s another aspect to this, in that tomorrow’s technicians will have a new skillset. FSM Automation means, for example, reducing manual work, and making more use of information derived from data in order to make better informed decisions and be prepared for the future – so the training, know-how and expertise of the next generation of field service engineers will naturally be quite different from those of their colleagues working in this sector now.
Field service automation in telecom sector
In the telecommunications sector at least, automation is nothing new. But 5G and the Internet of Things are bringing rapid changes to the landscape, demanding an urgent shift in the way telcos think about their networks. Infrastructure, for example, must be updated to make it robust enough to handle the speed of traffic and volume of data generated by these technologies. Enhanced networks mean enhanced maintenance, infrastructure and management, which as noted at the start of this post, are beyond the realms of human capability (although in terms of infrastructure replacement there will need to be human input in some areas). Automated field service management, embracing the organization of a mobile workforce with the skills to meet demand, is part of this. In fact, telcos are in the perfect position to take advantage of the benefits that automated FSM can offer, partly because of the wealth of data they generate. This of course raises the stakes still further – as the management of vast data lakes require other automation processes if they are not to degenerate into swamps – but it’s worth it; automating field services and real-time data analytics together give telcos the chance to enhance customer experience and gain a 360-degree view of workers and business performance which significantly impact the clients’ experiences.
One relatively simple way in which telcos can benefit from field service automation is to implement robotic process automation (RPA) where appropriate. This might include automatically and intelligently assigning tasks to technicians, rescheduling appointment times at the request of a customer, and constantly updating systems with new information about changes and technician assignments. Basically, RPA can do the recurring tasks that are so prone to human error – without making any mistakes.